When preparing stock by hand, the most useful plane is probably the jack plane (sometimes called the fore plane among joiners). Its curved iron allows you to remove a remarkable amount of material with every stroke.
I usually travel with a metal jack (an old Stanley No. 5) because it’s less intimidating in a classroom than demonstrating with a wooden-bodied plane. But I do have a wooden jack that I’ll use at home for my own work.
This week while in England, woodworker Richard Arnold showed me one of his 18th-century jacks that had a rounded sole that matched the rounded iron.
He said the plane is English and dates from the mid-1700s, based on its construction details, including its tote, which is offset from the centerline of the wooden stock. The plane had an Ibbotson iron with no chipbreaker.
Richard, who also collects tools relating to joinery and sash work, said he has seen this rounded sole on early jacks before, though it is not common. The advantage of the shape of the sole is that you can use the entire iron, instead of just the small bit that protrudes from a flat sole.
By tilting the plane, the corner of the iron will cut.
I imagine it also would be useful for dealing with the inside surface of a coopered door, amongst other things.
While I didn’t get to measure the radius of the curve, it looked like the iron was curved with a typical radius (such as 8° or maybe a tad tighter).
Next time I dig out my wooden jack, I might make this modification and give it a go. Or perhaps I’ll radius the sole of my metallic Stanley on an edge sander (this is a joke, Alf. Promise).
— Christopher Schwarz
My book “Handplane Essentials” discusses all manner of jack/fore plane stuff, including how to flatten boards and benchtops with this very useful plane. You can purchase “Handplane Essentials” in the ShopWoodworking.com store.